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The Complete Guide to Occlusal Guard Cleaning: An In-Depth How-To & FAQ

Patient cleaning occlusal guard with toothbrush

If you’re constantly grinding and clenching your teeth or feel that you’re suffering from the painful symptoms of a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), then your orthodontist may recommend that you wear an occlusal guard appliance to maintain your smile and ease these symptoms.

This appliance can be custom-made by the orthodontist, and are typically advised to be worn at night, hence why they’re often nicknamed “night guards”. But do you know how to maintain the occlusal guard that is being worn to maintain your smile? If you’re curious cleaning your occlusal guard or are one of the many people asking the following frequently asked questions, then read on to find some answers.

How Should I Clean My Mouthguard?

You can use the same cleaning methods and cleaners for all types of mouthguards as they’ll sanitize any type of occlusal guard materials. Types of mouthguard cleaners can generally be thought of in two classes: Chemical or Home DIY.

Many of these home solutions are also chemical composites, but ones that are much more readily available around your home, like:

  • Non-abrasive toothpaste
  • Mouthwash
  • Nontoxic, alcohol-free soap
  • Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar
  • Baking soda

To clean with soap or toothpaste, simply adhere to these following steps:

  1. Rinse your occlusal guard out with water.
  2. Apply a small dab of the soap or toothpaste to a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  3. Gently brush around the occlusal guard.
  4. Rinse both the brush and guard.
  5. Let air dry before storage.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to use soap or toothpaste, you can fill a clean bowl with equal parts baking soda and water. This will create a paste that you can apply to brush the occlusal guard.

 To minimize contamination, let the occlusal guard and container airdry fully, as moisture allows bacteria to thrive and reproduce. You can also clean it yourself, handwashing it every few days with normal dish soap. Do not do this by throwing it in with your plates and utensils in the dishwasher though; the heat of the machine could warp or damage the containers’ plastic.

For a deeper cleaning, done at least once a month, it’s recommended that you soak the night guard in a glass with a disinfecting solution for at least 30 minutes. Mouthwash, hydrogen peroxide, and vinegar can all be used to create this solution, as can dental cleaning chemicals, often sold as powders, liquids, or dissolvable tablets. 

To complete this deeper cleanse, it’s essential to adhere to the following steps:

  1. Fill a glass with lukewarm water, not too hot or cold.
  2. Add the dental chemical or DIY cleaner, measuring per any provided instructions to properly dilute it.
  3. Place the mouthguard in the solution.
  4. Soak 30 minutes, or per any directions provided.
  5. Empty the glass and rinse the occlusal guard with cool water.
  6. Let your occlusal guard dry.

How Often Should I Clean My Mouthguard? 

It’s common sense that you should always clean your occlusal guard right before and right after use, clean the container every few days, and that you should perform deeper cleanses at least once a month for 30 minutes, unless stated otherwise on the cleaner instructions. Still, there’s additional time-sensitive information that you should keep in mind when cleaning and caring for an occlusal guard:

  • Let your occlusal guard dry completely right before and after cleaning time.
  • Brush and floss before and after occlusal guard wear.
  • Don’t leave your occlusal guard where pets could easily reach it and chew it up.
  • Like their container materials, the occlusal guard materials can be damaged in high heat. If you like taking hot showers or baths, you may not want to store your appliance in the bathroom.
  • There is no safe time to share an occlusal guard with anyone. Avoid doing so to limit contaminant transmission.
  • When the time comes for your routine dental checkup, bring your occlusal guard. Besides cleaning your teeth, your dentist can also deep cleanse the appliance.

Other than wondering how often you should clean your mouthguard; you might also be wondering how often you should replace your mouthguard. There’s no clear answer to when, but there are facts we can provide to help you make an educated decision on the matter.

The average occlusal guard lifespan is 3-5 years, but some occlusal guards are meant to be worn for shorter terms than others. Additionally, factors like bruxism severity, wear damage, and hygiene can also affect the appliance longevity.

If you notice any of the following wear signs, then it’s a red flag that you’ll need a replacement occlusal guard ASAP:

  • Cracks, tears, and/or holes
  • Dents and deformities in the occlusal guard material
  • Guard material that feels lighter, looser, and less thick than normal
  • Feeling worsened soreness, irritation, bruxism, or TMD symptoms after wear
  • Extreme discoloration and bad smell, even after cleaning

Why Is My Mouthguard Turning Yellow? 

As your occlusal guard is exposed to wet saliva, and all the microbes and bacteria that entails, developing a certain level of natural discoloration on it is inevitable. However, it’s not normal for the occlusal guard to develop extreme discoloration and following all of the above cleaning measures should minimize the odds of it getting to that point. You can’t reverse all discoloration, but you can reverse it from regressing seriously or happening speedily.

The discoloration also isn’t just visually unappealing; it can be a sign that the material of your occlusal guard is weakening and losing elasticity. That’s why adhering to the proper cleaning and care measures is so important. 

Likewise, it’s worth mentioning that some of the whiter gunky buildup around the guard could be buildup of not germs, or just germs, but calcium deposits. Soaking an occlusal guard in a vinegar solution (1-part white vinegar to 3 parts water) works particularly well at getting rid of these deposits. If you follow all of these cleaning and care measures but still notice extreme discoloration and foul odor, consult your dentist or orthodontist.

Can A Dirty Mouthguard Make You Sick?

Of course, it can. According to a study conducted by Sports Health, hundreds of bacterium, yeast, and molds can develop in guards, including staph microbes associated with diseases like:

  • Pneumonia
  • Carditis (heart diseases)
  • Meningitis
  • Periodontal disease
  • UTI

Extremely unpleasant at best and potentially life-threatening at worst, you do not want to be subject to any one of these ailments. It’s worth noting that this study was exclusively conducted on sports occlusal guards, but these guards are made of similar materials and are subject to the same bacteria forming on them.

It’s crucial to be diligent with these hygiene, cleaning, and care measures to minimize the risk of disease transmission. Protecting one area of your health should not mean putting other areas at risk. Your appliances should not be your mouth’s petri-dish or central infection vector. You can do that by cleaning your occlusal guard as much as possible and consulting your oral healthcare provider for additional support.

Not only can an experienced dentist or orthodontist produce a custom-fit mouthguard; they can also offer you invaluable insights, support, and opinions that you wouldn’t have otherwise.